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Calculating True Labor Times on Diagnostic Scans

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OK, friends, I’m going to stick with a subject we’ve discussed often in this space the last several months. My goal with this column is to provide my input on the subjects you most want to hear about; that’s what I will continue to do. And I can’t ignore the constant emails, phone calls and direct questions about this subject: diagnostic scanning.

But let’s look at something we haven’t talked about yet (and something I just received an email inquiry about moments before putting these words on page here): How much time should you put on an estimate to account for a diagnostic scan?

Simple, right? I mean, it should be in everyone’s repair data in an across-the-board, uniform way that … oh, wait. 

So, you don’t need me to tell you that this isn’t the case—that’s why you’re asking about it. There is not a cut-and-dry answer for how much labor time should be recorded for scanning a vehicle. It varies, but I think as an industry we need to understand what goes into scanning a vehicle; it’s not just hooking up a scanner. There is a lot more that goes into this, as the labor for running a scan is really more about going through a full-fledged diagnostic process.

A quick note: This mindset should and needs to apply to writing estimates for all aspects of repairs; we need to fully understand the entire process to better understand the labor time.

If the book time doesn’t line up with what you and your team need to do, we need to work toward solutions (more on that later).

When we go to run a scan, there’s a lot involved:

First thing we do is hook up a battery support (you don’t want to scan a vehicle without battery support or it won’t work properly).

Then we have to hook up a scan tool, turn the key on the vehicle, run the health check.

Then, when we get the health check, we have to integrate that into the OEM scan tool to find the OEM repair info for what the DTCs mean.

Once you do the research, it may tell you to do a functionality test (which I call an output test). Then you make sure the systems are working. If they aren’t, you may need to do a ground check. And so on and so on.

At the end of the day, it’s not just hooking up a scanner, right? It’s not that simple and we shouldn’t be making our labor time that simple. 

Any time you come up with a labor time, it should be based on time for the average technician to gather the tools, equipment and supplies to do that job in a safe and proper way. Then, you need to account for them to put it all back and clean up. It doesn’t matter what the job is; you must do it this way. And remember: The average tech is someone with 3–5 years of experience, not 15. 

When we’re looking at labor time for scanning, it can vary quite a bit. Some OEM tools can return the information you need in 20 minutes. Some take an hour. Some require extensive manual testing and research. Some don’t. I scanned a vehicle recently that returned 137 fault codes. That shouldn’t be the same labor time as if it had returned one or none. 

The inconsistency is an issue across the board. Some OEMs and IPs have had times set for quite a while—some have been out there for 10-plus years. No one has really taken the time to research and change things. 

This is where you come in.

We have the ability to change this on our own, by diligently following procedures, documenting this and then using a tool called the Database Enhancement Gateway, which I wrote about in a past column. If you find discrepancies between your actual labor time and the book time for this procedure, send it in for the DEG to review and get changed. That’s what it’s there for, and even though I’ve said this a number of times, I’ll say it again: We need to take better advantage of this valuable resource. 

This column likely doesn’t give you the exact, precise answer to the question of how many hours to attach to a labor time for a diagnostic scan, but it gives you the process to figure it out. And we need to figure it out. I hear from many of you every month with these similar questions, and I want to help all of us find the solutions. Let’s keep working toward them together.

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